AUSTRALIA V WALES (Tomorrow, KO 11.05 BST)
WALES have a golden chance of re-writing the history books today with a first victory over Australia in the southern hemisphere for a quarter of a century.
That’s the opinion of Mark Ring who played in the centre when Wales beat the Wallabies 22-21 to third place in the 1987 World Cup.
That encounter was played in Rotorua on New Zealand’s north island and was only Wales’ second win against Australia Down Under after a 19-16 victory in Sydney in 1969.
And Wales great Ring, who helped coach Cross Keys to a Swalec Cup triumph this season, is tipping Sam Warburton’s men to make it a hat-trick of wins come this afternoon.
Wales go into today’s first Test of a three-match series against Australia on a real high after being crowned champions of Europe in March and their excellent showing in last autumn’s World Cup which saw them unlucky not to make the final.
The Wallabies are missing some of their best players in Brisbane today – outside half James O’Connor, utility back Kurtley Beale and captain and lock James Horwill are out with injury while influential No 10 Quade Cooper is returning from knee surgery and misses out.
“This is a golden opportunity for Wales who have a near first choice line-up going into this game,” said Ring, who won 32 caps for Wales between 1983 and 1991 as centre and fly half.
“There is a strong air of confidence as well after winning the Grand Slam.
“The only thing that worries me is that we are going there at the end of a long season.
“I think Australia will definitely miss O’Connor and Cooper but Berrick Barnes is another outstanding outside half, although I think he is even better at 12.”
Ring believes much rests on Warburton’s battle with opposing openside flanker and Wallabies captain David Pocock and warns the visitors to underestimate at their peril Australia’s all-New South Wales front row of Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu.
“Warburton is such an important player for Wales,” Ring said.
“He keeps Wales in the game when they are under the cosh and is so clinical at the breakdown – his battle with Pocock is going to be key.
“I don’t think Wales will be able to target their scrum either because I saw that all-Waratahs front row push the Hurricanes around the park the other day.”
Ring remembers how emotional he was the last time Wales beat Australia in the southern hemisphere, nearly 25 years to the day.
“We’d just lost the World Cup semi-final to the All Blacks by 40 points and were so deflated because we’d put everything into that game,” he said.
“We really had to pick ourselves up for Australia in the third/fourth place play-off.
“There was a fantastic atmosphere – all the New Zealanders in the crowd were behind us because they hated the Wallabies.”
Ring added: “I remember it being played with so much adrenaline and intensity that I only found out a fortnight later that their flanker David Codey had been sent off after just five minutes.
“I was very emotional after we’d won – I couldn’t stop crying – because it was such an achievement to have come back and won after what happened to us against New Zealand.
“Our coach Tony Gray came up to me after the game, put his arm around me, and said, thinking I was upset with my own performance, ‘don’t worry Mark. I didn’t think you were that bad’”.